• Ground fog in the Great Bear Rainforest

    Fog blankets trees in the Great Bear Rainforest. The rainforest is one of nearly 50 forest conservation projects included in the Queen's Commonwealth Canopy (QCC), an ambitious legacy project aimed at creating a global network of protected forests in the Commonwealth nations. (Photo: Jenny Stevens/Can Geo Photo Club)

You may not realize it, but the world’s forests have a powerful champion in their corner: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

An ambitious legacy project called the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy (QCC), conceived in her name to encourage countries to develop and maintain working forest conservation plans, is beginning to gather steam.

The program unites national conservation projects in Britain and the 53 Commonwealth countries under one umbrella, with a goal to create a global network of protected forests. Once approved and endorsed by the QCC, the national projects are incorporated into the network and placed under the protection of the Queen herself.

Although most of the Commonwealth countries are involved in some way, the QCC still has fewer than 50 active projects globally and is trying to expand its network. The idea is for members to share knowledge and best practices, and “create new, collaborative initiatives for forest conservation,” according to the QCC’s website.

A graphic outlining the objectives of the Queen's Commonwealth Canopy project

So far only one site in North America is QCC-protected: in 2016, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest (GBR) and officially endorsed it. One of the largest intact strips of coastal temperate rainforest in the world, the GBR is home to 26 different First Nations and many unique plants and animals, including a subspecies of American black bear that presents with white fur, called the Kermode or Spirit Bear. The Kermode bear is important to the Coastal First Nations, and has become a symbol of the fight for the forest’s protection.

At the 2016 endorsement, Prince William commented that Canada’s efforts to preserve the GBR show “substantial dedication, which will highlight a more collaborative approach to sustainable forest conservation,” benefitting other Commonwealth countries through “sharing the knowledge and expertise … gained working together with First Nations, industry and environmental organizations to establish the unique forestry management program.”

Eighty-five per cent of the 6.4 million-hectare forest—equivalent in size to Ireland— is protected, while the remaining 15 per cent allows strictly regulated logging to support local jobs. The hope is that the Great Bear Rainforest will set a strong precedent, encouraging the participation of other sites across North America.

The Queen and proponents of the QCC hold no illusions: they know that the environment is a difficult subject around which to inspire change. A documentary, The Queen’s Green Planet, which aired on Britain’s iTV last week, brings to light the Queen’s investment in the cause, and showcases the personal stake the royal family and other prominent ambassadors have in conservation efforts (in one scene, actor and humanitarian Angelina Jolie is seen planting trees with her children in Namibia).

In an interview after the documentary’s release, host and celebrated naturalist Sir David Attenborough said the Queen’s dedication to the QCC project was evident. “She certainly cares for the Commonwealth,” he said. “And she very clearly cares for the natural world.” That genuine concern is one more legacy that she will leave to her grandchildren and great-grandchilden.

Both Prince Harry and Prince William have taken up the cause with enthusiasm, travelling the world to plant trees, promote the QCC, encourage Commonwealth citizens to get involved in protecting nature, and officially endorse conservation projects. It is rumoured that Prince Harry has a green thumba trait he reportedly passed on to his nephew, Prince George. The hope is that someday, the QCC legacy will also be passed down to the younger generation.

As Prince William put it at the 2016 endorsement of the GBR, “When we protect our rivers, oceans, atmospheres, or ... our forests, we are telling our children that their future prosperity cannot be disconnected from the health of the natural world.”